I’m going to preface this article by saying I don’t normally write reviews. I am FAR from a gear junkie. Cameras have been more of a tool for me for over a decade now. Once the novelty of being a pro photographer wore off, the excitement of new gear did too. I’ve shot Nikon my entire career not because of brand loyalty, but mostly because I was used to them and built up an arsenal of lenses. This article will explain my transition to Fuji and why I chose it over other mirrorless systems, as well as my initial impressions. I’m not a pixel peeper, I’m not really knowledgeable on glass and the different effects of varying levels of quality of lenses, I just went to work every day feeding my family by making pictures. At the end of the day, I’m just another voice in the crowd hoping to provide some insight to those hungry for more.
I’ve struggled to make photos for myself for a long time. Like many professional photographers, I got into shooting for a career because it was something I loved doing, and as soon as I found out I could make money I was all in. Over the next 12 years, that love would wane and I found myself shooting primarily for work and rarely for me. I will admit that this transition was primarily to spice things up and that many working pros won’t find themselves in the same rut I did. Sometimes when you do what you love for a career, you never work a day in your life… but for some people you just turn what you love into work. I was firmly in the latter experience.
My experience with Fujifilm digital cameras was limited. I had a waterproof one I gave to my mother in law after using a few times and there were a handful I used briefly in the mid 2000’s when I sold cameras. I had used and developed Fujifilm film in school and when working at a camera shop and was familiar with the brand from that experience.
Deciding To Make The Change
When Sadie and I would travel, I always had my D750 with me, but I rare lugged it out to shoot. To me it was heavy, expensive, and a burden to bring a long. Even when we would have it in the stroller, I wouldn’t bother dragging it out. It doesn’t get much lower effort than rolling your camera around in the bottom of a stroller, but no I still used my iPhone more than my D750. Not only was I turned off by the size and weight, I was always nervous about the expensive lenses because it was our working camera. The Fuji X-T2 represented everything I wanted in a camera: it was light, compact, had a decent selection of lenses, and didn’t feel like I was driving a tank around. It’s actually strange to type this out because I remember the D750 being touted as so light and small when it was released. How times have changed…
Size aside, I had some apprehensions. Primarily, I was nervous about the EVF and using a cropped sensor to shoot with. I wasn’t sold on the quality of images produced and the crop factor on the lenses drives me batty! I hated the idea of converting every lens to 35mm format in my head to know what focal range I’d be shooting at. I was worried the compact size would come at the price of construction and that I would be buying a toy or a consumer level camera not capable of what my Nikons were. All in all, I was skeptical and so I rented a Fuji X-T2 and the Zeiss 10mm lens to try it out. After a weekend I decided to sell everything and take the plunge! My goal with this move was to finally have a camera I could shoot with professionally while also being motivated to shoot with personally. In the end the form factor, style, and positive reviews of Fuji’s X series cameras convinced me to make the jump.
(I’m going to take this moment to note how nervous I was selling my entire Nikon collection taking a bet on the Fuji X series cameras… I still get sick to my stomach thinking about it…)
Doing The Deal
We sold our cameras on Facebook, Craigslist, and finally the rest we traded in to MPB. I hadn’t heard of MPB before, and was hesitant, but their staff was really helpful and they gave what I consider a fair price considering we were selling to a reseller. It wasn’t quite as much as if I had sold them myself, but I also didn’t have to sit on any of my gear waiting for the last few pieces to sell. I got a premium for what I could sell myself and traded the rest for what I wanted to get. This made for a quick, easy transition albeit at a slight cost.
All said and done, we sold three Nikon D750s, Nikkor 24-70m f/2.8, Nikkor 85mm f/1.8, Sigma Art 35mm f/1.4, Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8. In return, we got a Fujifilm X-T2, Fujifilm X-T20, the Fujifilm 35mm f/1.4, 23mm f/2, 18-55mm f/2.8-4, 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8. Considering we sold used Nikons about halfway or more through their lifespan and got new Fujis, I was happy to have come out about even after the trade.
Shooting With The X-T2
There’s definitely an adjustment period. For one, the EVF is a whole different system than I am used to, for better or worse. The size of the camera took some getting used to in my huge ape hands, and after over a decade of editing Nikon files, I was shocked to finally learn what people have always said about how different the color can be from brand to brand. Most of my concerns would be mitigated in the coming months, however.
EVF For A Lifelong Optical Viewfinder User
It seems to be that EVF is the future. For those who don’t know what it means, it stands for “electronic view finder”. It’s kinda like when you look through a camcorder and you’re seeing a little screen in the viewfinder instead of looking straight through the lens. What’s probably most striking to most optical viewfinder people is that what’s displayed on the lens is what you’ll ACTUALLY be shooting… meaning if you’re grossly underexposed, even temporarily because of a change in conditions, you’ll barely see anything in the viewfinder. And the same goes for if you’re way overexposed after stepping outside. Some people love this. For me, it was disorienting at first. There may be a way to change this setting to work more traditionally, but I didn’t dig too deep. I decided instead to acclimate.
After a couple hours of using the EVF, I did get used to it. It showed my depth of field, exposure, and other settings as well. One thing I actually really liked was setting the camera to display the images I shot for half a second right in the viewfinder. I was shooting my son play in the back yard and I could immediately see if the image was in focus and I stopped motion without taking the camera away from my face. It’s a pretty cool little trick.
While it was definitely weird to get used to, I did get used to it. I don’t know that I prefer EVF yet to optical, but that could just be old habits dying hard. After the adjustment period, I am fully used to the EVF on the Fuji X-T2. I’ll add, too, that I am more than a little ashamed to admit that with the X-T2, I have been shooting off the back screen a lot more than I used to as well, I don’t quite know why yet. It could be because it’s easier and lighter than the D750 or maybe my brain can’t disassociate the viewfinder screen from the bigger screen on the back. It’s not that bad, either.
UPDATE: I began this post a few months ago and am finishing it up now. In that time I have learned to LOVE the EVF. It’s so weird at first, but it definitely takes a lot of guess work out of composing a shot and it really allows you to create the exact image you want quicker. Now I am a person who loves film, loves pinhole photography, loves instant film and I love the uncertainty and imperfect nature of those formats. With that said… the EVF is an equal, but different sensation all together.
The Fuji X-T2 has an interesting feature called electronic shutter. I don’t use it often, because I love that sound and feel of the shutter going off. For me there’s an immense satisfaction in little fraction of a second. However, the electronic shutter has some utility. When I was shooting theater and dance, I remember constant complaints from the instructors and audience because my camera shutter was too loud. They’d ask me all sorts of crazy things like to “turn the volume down” and “can’t you silence that thing?” I would be relegated to the catwalk to shoot to be as far away from the audience as possible, thus putting me further away from the stage as well.
While using the electronic shutter removes that shutter clicking sensation (though if you want, you can turn on one of the shutter sounds and adjust it’s volume), it makes taking discreet street photos much easier. In fact, the entire Fuji X-T2 system makes street photography less intimidating. From the rotating back screen to the small, unassuming lenses to the silent shutter, I am able to shoot candids almost unnoticed. This was something my mentor would always encourage me to do, but that I was too nervous because of my huge gear and lout shutters. I always feared being noticed by whoever I was shooting. Now it’s basically a non-issue and all you have to worry about is trying not to look like a creep.
Focusing Is A Dream
Did my subheading give it away? Focusing with the X-T2, in my experience, has been a dream. It’s so fast with all the X glass I have been using. The 18-55, 23, 35, 60, and 55-200 all focus extremely fast and hit their mark every time. The D750 was fast too, but I think the X-T2 outpaces it for my use cases. The continuous focus works well, and the face tracking pretty much always works fast and accurately. Sometimes it hunts around, but in the end, auto focus works as well as I need it to and better.
Normally I wouldn’t include a section for something like film simulations or shooting modes. I do use VSCO quite often to finish images, especially portraits. I learned on film and I tend to like that look better than the digital look. Lately, I have been doing a lot of custom editing myself that somewhat mimics what I love about film, but adds my own flair and the better I get at it the more I like it, however film presets are still a common part of my workflow.
With that said, I have to give credit to the Fujifilm simulations on two accounts. First, they look really great. I haven’t tried them for videos, but I have heard good things. For stills, they create really nice finished images. I shot a lot with the black and white Acros simulation yesterday and I was really happy with the results. The image above was straight out of the camera and you can see it has nice grain, nice contrast, and and overall really well-done film look. It almost feels like the B&W I used to develop in the darkroom.
The second really nice feature about the film simulations on the X-T2 is that it saves the RAW images as full color. Having never really experimented with these functions on other cameras, it makes sense. The camera has to process the image to B&W so why not keep the color RAW versions? It was a pleasant surprise when I got home. I re-edited the images using my favorite Fuji VSCO filters and noticed only marginally better results. The out of the camera JPEGs from the Fuji simulations were beyond good enough for my personal, artistic use.
The Ergonomics of the X-T2
One of the primary reasons I picked the X-T2 is because of it’s form factor. Admit it – it’s a sexy camera. It has an obvious throwback the the film cameras I learned on and the feel of using those dials (while totally redundant in digital photography) is something I miss sorely. There’s something about shooting with the X-T2 that really feels like you’re making art. It slows down the process and adds an element of “think about what you’re doing” to your workflow. With that said, the physical dials really do slow me down. I learned you can set the dial to “T” to use only the thumbwheel on the back of the camera for a more traditional digital SLR shutter speed experience. Until I get used to the shutter dial, I find myself using the thumbwheel when I need to shoot fast and the dial when I’m shooting for fun. It works, but also makes the pretty shutter speed dial somewhat useless when you think about it. While I am lukewarm about the shutter dial, I am in love with the ISO dial. Shooting completely manual all the time, I don’t use the exposure compensation dial at all and wish it could be programmed to something else.
I was a bit nervous about the smaller size because I have huge hands. Much like a musician, my fingers knew exactly where every button on the D750 was and how to get there. There were no surprises. While I made the switch to get a smaller camera, I also knew this might be difficult for me. When I first shot with the X-T2, it was tough. Some of the buttons were in odd places and hard to reach. However, I believe this was fully because of how I committed every function of the D750 to muscle memory.
Before I got the X-T2 I tried to compare it from photos online to the D750. I have to say, this comparison doesn’t do the comparison justice. The X-T2 didn’t look much smaller that the D750 from the photos that people posted online, but it feels significantly smaller. It’s lighter and all around more compact-feeling. I think the difference feels a lot different than it looked in images.
After a couple days, I was able to do the same with the X-T2 and I don’t think it’s too small any longer. In fact, I think it’s the perfect size and I prefer it over the X-T20 my wife uses quite a bit. The “Q” button brings up a quick list of functions that you can program to anything you want. I still haven’t found the perfect layout for these functions, but I’m working on it. There are some things I wish I could map, like the digital horizon line which I frequently turn on when shooting real estate and off when shooting literally anything else. As is, it’s buried deep in the menu where it’s tough to get to easily or remember where it’s at sometimes.
Auto Sleep Function
Don’t worry, it’s not all sunshine and roses for the X-T2. The auto sleep function is the bane of my existence. While you can turn it off, the battery life on the X-T2 isn’t fantastic. It’s not horrible, but it needs to be preserved when possible. To do this, I have the auto sleep enabled after two minutes. This feature works poorly for multiple reasons, but for one it’s nearly impossible to wake back up. On my D750, I could literally press the shutter button half way to focus and whatever sleeping it was doing it would spring to life. The X-T2 is like a teenager you’re trying to wake for school. If you keep poking him, he’ll wake up… but it takes a while. I believe the camera can be woke by pressing the shutter half way to focus, I think I’ve done it, but it’s incredibly finicky and doesn’t work fast by any means. In fact, I often find it easier to turn the entire system off and on again invoking the quick but unwelcome cleaning function each time.
To add to the frustration, when the camera is woken back up it resets certain functions like the self timer. I use self timer a LOT for real estate photography. It’s pretty annoying to begin talking with an agent or homeowner for a couple minutes or to be moving to another room just to have the camera go to sleep and reset my self timer. While these are somewhat minor grievances, they are nonetheless present.
I was not certain about selling off the Nikon D750s for a system I had little experience with. I got my first D750 shortly after they were released and my second not long after that. We had jut gotten our third within the last year and I had some Nikon lenses I was really in love with and had a sentimental attachment to that we had to let go. That equipment escorted me through almost my entire wedding career, I shot on NFL sidelines with it. Getting rid of it was a tough call. In the end, I am glad I did. For me, the D750 became too much to manage. It was a fantastic camera, but the size and overall value of it meant I left it in my bag except when I was working.
Some people are likely reading this and thinking that I’m crazy and they have no problem shooting with their full frame DSLRs whenever they want. Then the Fuji X series cameras may not be for you. For me, they were a game changer. The X-T2 has reignited my passion and love and it’s actually brought me back around to my photo business after starting this article. But now I feel like I’m back. I’ve finally gotten out and shot more than I was and I remember why I wanted to be a photographer to begin with. Yeah, I was in a rut and that’s not relevant to anyone considering this camera, but maybe my impressions of the camera are relevant. For me, those impressions brought me back to shooting.
I hope you enjoyed this personal review of the X-T2. Like I said, I’m not a gear nut. I’m just another working photographer trying to get back to doing what I love. Let me know what you think, I hope this review was a little different than what you’ve read in the past. I would love to do some more, maybe on the lenses I’ve got now.